In Woodstock, N.Y., The Golden Notebook is open for browsing with a limit of 10 customers allowed in at once, owners Jacqueline Kellachan and James Conrad reported.
Reflecting on 2020, Kellachan and Conrad noted that the store ultimately "kind of came out where we should be," despite a very rocky start to the year. The store saw a 50% hit in the second quarter of 2020, and after author events, school book fairs and the Woodstock writers festival were canceled, things looked "pretty grim." The Woodstock community rallied around The Golden Notebook, however, and the town supervisor allowed the bookstore to operate as an essential business while most everything was closed.
As the year went on, a "strange thing happened" in the area. Normally, Woodstock and the surrounding area is packed with tourists during the summer, but that didn't happen in 2020. Instead, there was a "mass exodus" of people leaving New York City and its suburbs, and Conrad remarked that there is "not a house to be bought 100 miles from our store." In an area that is normally full of short-term rentals and houses that are empty for half of the year, the "houses are all full."
Locals often joke that once the pandemic is over, all of those houses will be up for sale again, but Conrad said he doesn't think they will be. It seems like people took this as their excuse to leave the city and move upstate, and they've found that they can live and work there year-round. Kellachan and Conrad pointed out that September is usually one of the slowest months of the year, but September 2020 was the store's best ever, and things have remained busy even after Christmas.
|James Conrad and Jacqueline Kellachan
The pandemic gave the store the opportunity to make some significant changes, including turning its upstairs events space into a children's section, and clearing out old inventory and making more space on the shelves. The owners have set up a new "satellite store" at a theater complex in Bearsville, N.Y., which is where the Golden Notebook will hold future events. The complex's outdoor space should hopefully give them a chance to start doing events with limited attendance this summer.
Asked about their outlook for the first half of 2021, Conrad and Kellachan said they're optimistic, especially compared to how things were the same time last year. Looking ahead to the summer, they explained that although the store saw plenty of day-trippers, there was not the normal influx of tourists from around the country and even abroad. If some of that returns this summer, it "would be amazing."
In Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Appletree Books is reopening its entire store to browsing this week after being half-closed since June of last year, owner Lynn Quintrell reported. Early last summer she and her team essentially "took a 2,000-square-foot store and jammed it into about 900 square feet." Customers were able to browse in a limited fashion while the other half of the store was used as a shipping and receiving area.
The closed half of the store contained mostly backlist, Quintrell continued, and while staff members were happy to grab any books that customers wanted from the closed side, the arrangement was "wearing a little thin" and people were getting frustrated by it. Nearly every member of the staff has had one or both vaccine doses now, she added, and after meeting and discussing the option, they decided they felt comfortable reopening the store. Masks will still be required, of course, and occupancy limits and social-distancing measures will still be observed.
All told, the store was down by about 25% in 2020, but the year ended on a very strong note. The holiday season was very busy, and Christmas sales came within 10% of 2019's, which was a record-setting year. Business has been slow again since about February, when the city started construction in front of the store and took away its on-site parking. February 2021 was down by about 25% compared to the previous year, but customers have been "so supportive" and very understanding about all the store has had to deal with.
As for any bright spots in a very difficult year, Quintrell pointed to the community's support as well as her staff's flexibility. The pandemic also forced her and her team to look at the store "with fresh eyes'' and reevaluate most everything they were doing. This led to many beneficial changes in the store's layout, including separating genres of fiction that used to be "all mushed together." Private browsing appointments, which the store started offering last year, will also return during future holiday seasons, even after things return to normal.
Quintrell said she was cautiously optimistic about the first half of 2021. The store is going to be doing a few bookfairs, which were "nonexistent" last year, and she thinks that they may be able to host some author receptions over the summer, though she "doesn't want to jump in whole hog" before there is a clearer idea of what's happening with the pandemic.
Quintrell said she's feeling "much more optimistic" about the second half of the year. In 2020 there were no real back-to-school sales, and there's a chance that could return this year. She also has big hopes for the 2021 holiday season. --Alex Mutter